For those earnest followers of the French underground, Baise Ma Hache should be an act that needs no introduction. Like it or not, they have slowly but steadily developed their own unique approach towards BM — a well-balanced blend of groove and melodies, provoking lyrics and vocal execution while infusing that notorious and uncompromising hooligan spirit. Their fourth full-length Devotio was released earlier this year via Hammerbolt Productions. It’s, therefore, an honor to be able to have this very thoughtful conversation with John (Guitars, Bass, Drum Programming, and additional Vocals) on themes of album concept, war, philosophy, French BM, passion for motorcycles, and (unsurprisingly) Louis-Ferdinand Céline.
Interview by Timbuktu777 https://www.instagram.com/timbuktu7777/
Addition questions by NK (Chute du Soleil) and Xuantong
Les Soldats De La Musique: https://lessoldatsdelamusique.bigcartel.com/
T： I like the oil painting cover of the 2018 album F.E.R.T very much. Why didn’t I continue to do the oil painting style album cover after that? Will I still consider doing this style of cover or inner page design? Of course, I also like DEVOTIO’s print-style cover very much — the scene of blowing the horn toward the Eiffel Tower seems more meaningful. Do these two paintings have any historical background? And who is the cover artist for F.E.R.T ?
John： The FERT cover has been done by Paolo Girardi, and the inner designs by our great friend Umberto D´Ottavio. For the Devotio album, we asked Umberto to make all our designs because he knows exactly what we want, and it’s easier to work with a friend with the same mindset. For each of our albums, we have always made sure that the designs were created in coherence with the different atmospheres that we developed over time.
FERT was a big shift in our way of working and in our music in general. It’s the first album that we mixed and mastered, it’s the first complete album with Hreidmarr (vocalist), and it’s the first album where we really took the time to compose, write and give a general coherence to the subject and to the form. this necessarily impacted the way we designed the cover. We wanted something barbaric and heroic, more developed and less dirty than the previous albums while taking up the codes of BMH and that’s how Thorwald (vocalist) came up with the idea of asking Paolo to paint a scene representing the ride of the Valkyries by adding motorcycles, guns, naked women and balaclavas.
For this one (FERT), we cannot really say that there is a historical will, but Devotio is another story: The cover takes up the legend of Roland and transcribes it in a kind of more or less near and dystopian future by once again taking up the codes of BMH. I will let you search on the internet for the exact details of the legend of Roland and Charlemagne because it is a very long story that I cannot simplify or translate into English.
T： Did the Russian-Ukrainian war have a big impact on France? Did it affect your personal life and your music career, and what are your thoughts on the war? Please share.
John： Yes, we can feel the impact of the war in France, but above all, these are relatively insignificant economic impacts compared to what the populations directly affected by the war experience.
I personally find that France and the European Union, in general, are only reaping what they have been sowing for decades by taking the Russians for fools. And I find it distressing to note that some are indignant at this conflict by drawing from it biases of confirmation that Putin is a bastard because all this is proof of it while they have been stoking these issues since the end of the USSR and in addition, not caring about other equally unfair and deadly conflicts that are taking place elsewhere but which do not bring any benefit to Europe or even worse would put them in an uncomfortable situation.
That being said, that in no way removes the atrocities suffered by the Ukrainians, and we cannot imagine what they are going through on a daily basis in view of our situation in France, which is rather comfortable in comparison.
We can debate for hours on who is right and what is right or wrong; we are far too badly placed to objectively realize what is going on down there. I find it very complicated to judge this kind of conflict without knowing precisely the history of the region concerned, the ins and outs, previous conflicts and everything that could play a role today. Still, when a person is attacked and defends their land, I would tend to side with it rather than the assailant.
T： Apart from metal, what other genres do you like to listen to, which ones inspire you, and can you recommend a favorite non-metal artist or album.
John: Thorwald and I have always listened to different styles of music, even if we have always listened more towards metal and rock in general. we have listened to a lot of Darkfolk and neofolk and more recently discovered country music after several visits to our friends, Wolves of Vinland, in Virginia.
When it comes to country music, people only see the clichés of the genre. The guys slicked back with deep voices, in white suits and cowboy hats, singing for housewives in need of romance. Or even worse! Rednecks who only talk about their huge trucks and how drunk they drive all night. In reality, there are many artists much more interesting than that, speaking of nihilism, of death, with a vision of life and existence much more developed than most of us. Thorwald said in an interview, I don’t remember the exact words, but he said that country music, in a way, is a stripped-down version of black metal. The terms discussed are substantially the same, and the energy that emanates from them is also very close. the only real difference is the form more than the content, and to give country music the advantage, there is something purer to express and transmit emotions with a guitar, four chords, and four verses than with six musicians, huge productions and ultra-technical eight-minute tracks. Sometimes simplicity is more important, and going back to the essence of what we are listening to can put a lot of things into perspective. Personally, I feel much more touched by someone who sincerely expresses his emotions in all simplicity than guys who cosplay and go to extremes to show how satanic they are but who probably wouldn’t assume it in front of their boss or their in-law’s families.
For a few years, I couldn’t stop listening to Townes Van Zandt. Seriously I think he’s one of the greatest artists of all time who never had the success he should have had. If you have the opportunity to listen to “Lungs, Waitin’ round to die, My proud mountains, Flying shoes and Nothing” by taking the time to listen to the lyrics, they are just masterpieces. I quote you these songs that come to mind, but in reality, his entire discography is incredible, and there are about twenty other songs to listen to, which are all worth it.
NK: How to look at the relationship between the state and the individual, as in the lyrics, what kind of ”state“ betrays the individual. And is your view of the nation, similar to Heidegger’s, a cultural community, or is it limited by the race itself?
John: This is a very difficult question to answer. I don’t know Heidegger well enough to rely on his work when answering you but to answer more simply, I would say that both have a certain importance and that nothing can be entirely black or entirely white.
I would say that to create a community in which all the members are not constantly at war, it is important that the members of this community share the same values, the same vision of the past, and the same vision of a common future in order to move forward hand in hand. I don’t think there is any fundamental importance attached to race here, but I find it hard to believe that a person born on the other side of the world, with a different history, a different culture, and a vision of the world shaped according to the geographical area where this person was born can have the same vision of the past and the future as a person born in France for example, even if it is not totally impossible.
This does not mean that one vision is better than another or that the community in which I grew up is better than another. It just means that there is a lot of possibility for different visions and that a single community cannot fit with the expectations of the whole world.
In conclusion, I think it is essential to create a community with people with common values, and most of the time, culture helps a lot to bring people together, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the only option.
T: Why does French black metal always sound like it has a similar vibe or similar roots? Do you draw on some traditional French folk music in it, or have you coincidentally developed a French style?
John: I think the language has a lot to do with it. The phrasing, flow, and pronunciations are very recognizable and instantly indicate to the listener that such or such band belongs to the French scene. Afterward, as in any scene, the different bands influence each other and create a coherent whole.
Some actually add elements of French folklore, others don’t, but as a scene, there is a common energy that gives direction without necessarily everyone facing the same thing.
Xuantong: French black metal music is very famous in the world. At the same time, there are also many fans of black metal in the French music scene. But why is there not as much or even so little French black metal music as you can see in most record stores in France? I didn’t even find once stuff released by BMH there.
Does this have something to do with the image of French black metal in French society?
John:I think it mostly depends on what you mean by French Black Metal. There are a lot of mainstream bands that have a place in all the slightly specialized record stores, and it seems to work well. As for the more underground groups, they are also available at some even more specialized record stores, but they are not hard to find. Afterward, it is always possible to find a bit of everything from the different labels, and there are a lot of them.
I don’t think that in France, there is a real bad image of black metal or even of metal in general. Still, French black metal, as a scene and not generalist black metal played by French guys, remains an underground scene that is struggling to come out of its cave and which mainly interest passionate listeners.
As for BMH, the problem is more political and in France the opposition is very strong. When we approach terms that can be closely or remotely related to the far right, censorship comes to the fore very quickly. As soon as we talk about certain themes, like history, patriotism, European culture, etc… we are directly categorized and many doors allowing a certain visibility close. It’s unfortunate but that’s the game! I prefer to do what I want without worrying about the opinion of others rather than conforming to the expectations of the labels so as not to make them lose money or lose their visibility.
The fact is that every band that talks a bit too much about European culture, history, and critics of the modern world is categorized as nazi or nsbm…
Personally, I would tend to say that we are nationalists and anarchists and nostalgic for more traditional values and against the values imposed by the modern world.
As for white supremacism, I find it absurd to associate ourselves with that. To speak on my behalf, I sincerely do not believe that defending our own culture and history should be done at the expense of others’ culture and I have enormous respect for all cultures on earth. Simply, in view of what globalism tends to impose, to create a smooth world where no one would come from nowhere, and all people would only be good for consumption, I find it important to defend my culture against that.
In Europe, to think like that is directly to be categorized as white supremacists, but that’s a bit silly. I think we have to defend each of the cultures of this world and not let the different governments destroy them for their own benefit. But it is normal in a sense to defend your own culture while letting others take care of theirs.
T: Nowadays, China doesn‘t allow Chinese citizens to leave the country at will, nor does it allow foreign bands to play in the country, so we’ve only been able to watch domestic bands for almost three years, which is very hard for metal fans. And in an unnecessary anti-epidemic policy, China has kept Shanghai people from going out for three months, and there is always the risk of being quarantined and staying in hotels to pay for their own quarantine for about 7 or 14 days in their home country, so they can‘t properly travel to other parts of the country. The economy has also been driven down by this unnecessary policy, and people are very unfree, which used to be average, but now the people in power are even worse
Jon： I don’t like to talk about things I don’t actually know and to be honest I don’t know a lot about China, but for what you tell and what I heard, it’s sad to see such a big country, with a millennial history and such a great culture being crushed by a bad government
T: Post-colonialism and anti-Western centrism is indeed an important topic in non-developed countries; thank you for noticing this. For me, one cannot maintain an oppressed and angry attitude against the spread of universal values in New World countries just because one is an ancient civilization and is now on the periphery, knowing that there is always a reason why everyone seeks civilization away from feudal traditions. It is true that Western countries have aberrantly shaped Third World countries, but sometimes this idea can lead to reverse nationalism, and I see this in two ways.
It’s good to celebrate one’s land and culture versus opposing modernity, and I enjoy reading similar works, such as those of Schelling, Herzen, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Its also nice to see that you’re willing to categorize the band as anarchist-leaning. I‘ve read your lyrics in the lyric book, and they’re very poetic, which is a genre I really like, and it‘s not easy to be lyrically and musically sophisticated at the same time, which is why I really like your band.
John： Theres one thing that interests me a lot. Have you read Celine in English translation or in Chinese? Céline probably is my favorite writer of all the times! But I’m actually septic that it can be read in another language than French… For the subjects hes talking about, and his reflections about the world, the war, the society etc… It could be read. Still, its impossible to translate his texts with the exact way he’s speaking. he uses slang that is very specific to a district of Paris and at a specific time, which makes his way of speaking extremely special, even for a Frenchman.
I have nothing to add except that we no longer live in a community and have become egocentric. Therefore, everyone lives for their own comfort at all costs and is ready to sacrifice a complete society so as not to have to leave their own comfort. We have forgotten the values greater than our own life and lost what was sacred in death.
For the fact of being poetic and sophisticated at the same time, I think that is the great advantage of having very defined roles in a group and of less than two! Thorwald only has to think about lyrics and designs when working on an album and I only have to compose and record. Even if it may seem very limiting, in reality it is what allows us not to scatter and focus on what we do best each on our side and I think that helps us a lot. In addition, being extremely complementary in our lives, not only musically, the alchemy operates very easily and most of the time, the lyrics stick perfectly to my music.
Often, in bands with 4 or 5 members, the creative process is very slowed down by the fact that everyone wants to put their stone to the building without making any concessions. In the end, they take a long time to just agree before they can really start working. In BMH, we trace our path independently of the other without thinking, but by confining ourselves to our own role,s and we always manage to come together at some point.
T: Voyage au bout de la Nuit has a Chinese translation. Due to cultural differences and language barriers, it is certainly not as interesting as the French original. When I learn some French in the future, I will definitely read it again in French, especially the slang that only exists in French and cannot be translated into Chinese. Paul Ricoeur used the term “résistance,” following psychoanalytic terminology, to refer to the insidious and cunning resistance to the trials of the foreign, which originated in the translated language.
The boundaries between semantic fields cannot be fully transferred from one language to another. In a word, the ideal of the ”perfect translation“ is abandoned. As with accepting a defect, only renunciation can help us withstand the impossibility of serving two masters, serving both the author and the reader.I think that Paul Ricoeur, the hermeneutics from your home country, has a very good understanding of translation.
T： You and Thorwald work together perfectly! And thanks again for accepting this interview!
John: Thank you!.